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Breastfeeding while serving in the military.

June 5, 2012 1:35 p.m.

Beth Ford Roth, Home Post military blogger for KPBS

Wendy Patrick, SDSU Management Department, Business Ethics

Related Story: Breastfeeding Moms Silenced By The Military


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Tuesday, June†5th. Our top story on Midday Edition, on election day, we take a breather from political now's until the results start coming in this evening. So we can cast an eye on some of the other interesting topics around, and one of those topics is indeed quite an eyeful. A photo of two women service members in uniform breast feeding their infants has caused some controversy on our military blog, Homepost. Joining me to discuss the controversy are Beth Ford Roth, she is KPBS home post blogger, and welcome to the show.
FORD ROTH: Thank you so much.
CAVANAUGH: And Wendy Patrick is here, with the SDSU school of management. Welcome.
PATRICK: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And we invite our listeners to join the conversation. You can see the photographs on our website at And you can call with your questions and comments. Our number here is 1-888-895-5727. Beth, I'm going to start with you. Tell us who the women in the photo are and how these pictures came about.
FORD ROTH: Okay, well, the two women in the photo, the ones wearing the uniform I should say, are members of the air national guard. They're based up at fairchild airforce base in Washington. And they were asked by a breast feeding proponent to be photographed breast feeding their children. And they were among several military women who were photographed. However, they were the only ones wearing their uniforms. And the idea was August is national breast feedingly awareness month. And so the idea was to photograph this beautiful act taking place and promote it on base and let women know in the military that this is a healthy, normal activity and maybe to inspire some women who wouldn't normally breast feed to do so. So that was the idea behind the photographs, and then they were posted on the photographer's website. Of
CAVANAUGH: And then! And then! The photos have generated a lot of response on the homepost blog. What are people saying?
FORD ROTH: What kind of comments are you get something
FORD ROTH: Well, they sort of run the gamut. And there's not a lot of -- when I say they run the gamut, we go from one side where people are saying it's a disgrace to the uniform, you don't chew gum when you're wearing a uniform. You don't kiss your wife in your uniform. To the other side where it's, you know, this is the most natural act in the world, this is what a woman's body, especially that part of a woman's body is meant to do. And the baby doesn't know the mom's in the military. The baby is hungry. But I will have to say search very fervent in their beliefs, very passionate.
CAVANAUGH: On either side.
FORD ROTH: Exactly.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So again this has generated a lot of controversy. We asked the women in the photos to join us on the phone, but they are no longer giving interviews just because this has become such a controversial issue. Beth, what has their response been?
FORD ROTH: Well, basically they have been told by their supervisors not to speak to the mediahey will not be reprimanded. And the issue that their supervisors have taken isn't -- or has taken rather isn't the fact that they were breast feeding in their uniforms. That's not an issue at all. At least that's what the spokesman for fairchild airforce base is saying of the it's a matter of they were using their uniforms to support or back something that they shouldn't have been, in this case national breast feeding awareness. They're using their uniform not for simply their act in the military.
FORD ROTH: But to support another cause. And that uniform can't be used to support any cause. Even if it's breast feeding for military moms. So that's where the issue is.
CAVANAUGH: And on their Facebook page, on one of these women's Facebook page, I think they have a long sort of explainer and also come out and say they're behind the military 110%, and would never do anything to upset people in the military. Wendy, why has this story caused such a debate? Now, I've read some people that say it has to do with our society's continuing ick factor when it comes to breast feeding. Do you agree?
PATRICK: Maureen, I think you really hit the nail on the head when you introduced this segment by referring to the photograph as an eyeful. If any of you have been noticing the bloggers kind of getting off task, you'll note that is due to the fact that this is a photograph that shows two women each breast feeding in a different fashion. The ick factor as you put it, and I think as some of the bloggers put it as well, I think refers more to not so much they're antibreast feeding or antipublic breast feeding, but with a little bit of modesty and discretion is what seems to be the theme that a lot of people are complaining about. There's a number of arguments that are against breast feeding in public. If you really distill, is there a common theme to these people? What is their arguments as to why women shouldn't do it? It really goes to a little bit of what you've noticed. It's in the like they think you can't breast feed in public but that there should be a mod cumof decorum, if not privacy because that's not always possible, at least an element of discretion. You see that as a theme of what people are talking about, specifically with respect to this photograph.
CAVANAUGH: Right. And yet it's interesting, Beth, you know, I mean this photograph was supposed to get people to stop and look. That was the reason this was staged this way, to get people's attention, to make if known to military moms that they should consider this as an option, perhaps not breast feeding in their uniform, but that they should do more of this for their child.
FORD ROTH: Right. And I think you could say sort of breast feeding is in the eye of the beholder, and that's why we have had so many different views. And riffing on what you just said, one of my commenters named Jamie said it is inappropriate either way you look at it. I am all for breast feeding but in the right way, the light scarf or blanket over the shoulder. My husband has been in the Navy for 20 year, and there are standards and regulations when it comes to new homes, and being out in public. Hell, he can't even wear physical training gear into the store to get some water." So I think the idea with this photograph was this is the most beautiful, natural thing in the world, and maybe for women who have had that experience, that's the only way they can view it. Maybe for some women who are in the military and have had to struggle with being -- maybe not the military of today, but the military of 20 years ago, and have had to struggle with being taken seriously, working twice as hard to get half of the amount of respect, the thought of being seen having any part of their body being seen in public goes beyond what they could comprehend. So you're getting different generations, different experiences, and then folks in the military just -- it's a different world. It's a different set of rules. And whereas we might say this is okay in the civilian world, for them it's -- you follow the order, you follow the rule board, and you have to. It's sort of a way of saving lives, if you like.
CAVANAUGH: On the line is Monica, joining us from Oceanside. Her husband is in the U.S. marines. What do you think about this controversy? Should a woman in uniform be allowed to breast feed in public?
NEW SPEAKER: Definitely. I mean, the way that it really works is that, for instance, some women cannot -- they say oh, they should pump, and feed a bottle or what not. Some women can't pump that much. To be able to feed breast milk the entire day, without going to formula. And not everybody qualifies for the WIC program or wants to get formula. So a lot of professional women both military and not military will do is have the childcare provider come bring the child during lunch hour. And not every woman can have this. A lot of military women have to meet in a public location in order -- because they can't have their child at their work site. So what they do is they have the child feed, and then they can have the child taken back. They don't have time to get out of their uniform. Some babies don't take covers either. They will scream and fuss, and it's much easier to discretely use a double shirt method, pulling up the top shirt, and unclasping a nursing tank underneath.
CAVANAUGH: Are there rules and regulation when is it comes to breast feeding on base that you're aware of?
NEW SPEAKER: According to what I've read, there's no specific rule stating that a female marine cannot breast feed in uniform. I know there are rules about certain things like you guys were saying before, my husband mentioned to me about chewing gum, and talking while walking on -- all this stuff. But there's no specific statement about nursing in public. I don't know otherwise.
CAVANAUGH: Thanks very much for calling in. And I'm just wondering, Beth, where does the military fall on in regards to laborer laws for U.S. businesses? Is the military subject to the same kind. Laborer laws you would see in the business world?
FORD ROTH: I'm not completely clear on that. I know the military has its own uniform codef justice which is completely different than -- and we saw this recently with the case of Gary Stein, the Camp Pendleton marine who was discharged because he wrote disparaging remarks about his commander in heave, who is President Obama. In a civilian work place, you might have a cause if you speak ill of one of your supervisors, that, hey, I have a right to express my opinion without getting fired. But things are completely different in the military. If I have a bad day at working maybe I have a grammatical error in my blog post. No one's going to get hurt. But everything in the military is set for a one way of thinking, this is why they wear uniform, it's to protect them in life and death situations. So they have to have a stricter code, and some of these codes might be antiquated because they're based on ideas from generations ago, and they might need to be updated. But they do go by a sort of different code. I'm not sure how that jells with today's labor code for civilians.
CAVANAUGH: Wendy, how is breast feeding being integrated?
PATRICK: Well, the labor code section 1030 et seq. Basically states that every employer including the state shall provide a reasonable amount of break time to accommodate an employee deciding to express breast milk for the infant child. And that alone, if that's where it ended, it would be pretty ambiguous. But it specifies that this cannot be a bathroom. And that's important because there are lots of workplaces that aren't naturally set up with private areas in which to breast feed. Section 1032 says an employer is not required to provide break time under this chapter if to do so would seriously disrupt the operations of the employer. Again, you can see that's a bit ambiguous as well. What are we talking about? And that phrasiology is important. If you look at some of the arguments against breast feeding in public, some of them have to do with just that. We're talking about three things, not whether women should breast feed, but where, public or private, when, on or off the job, and while wearing what? In is out of a military uniform in reverse order of importance, lastly. But some people are complaining, if we were that take that language literally, would we have police officers breast feeding in squad cars? Would we have school teachers breast feeding in front of their high school classes, which contain adolescent boys? You can see there's a slippery slope argument which I'm sure both is well aware of looking at the blog posts that we're going along a tangent into the outrageous instead of talking more about what the central issue should be surrounding the publicity these two ladies got over this photograph.
CAVANAUGH: Right, which is giving infants their nutrition, and a safe place to receive it.

CAVANAUGH: Let me talk to some of our callers. Hi, Patrick. Are you with us? Okay, we have Patrick and Lawrence on the phone. I'll take either one if they're available.
PATRICK: We scared them off.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, let me move on then. I want to explore one of the criticisms that you expressed, Beth, that you read in one of your blog posts. And it hit me. Some of the women in the military say they have had a hard enough time being accepted as real marines, real soldier, real sailor, without again being genderized in this way. They say the real problem is not whether you can breast feed in uniform but whether you're respected as a full-fledged member of the military. Do you think that comes into play in terms of these photographs?
FORD ROTH: Well, it absolutely does. And part of the original story was -- included a comment from a former marine captain who said it wasn't just about being respected, by her colleagues, but by her subordinates. She needed these young men, and my goodness, these men are so young, 18, and 19, and 20, and they don't have a lot of world experience. And they perhaps should be more mature. But they're not. They come from small towns, and the idea is that she didn't want to sort of shock them or make them not look at her as what she should be looked at, which is a marine, and not a mom, a woman, or whatever, but you sort of have to lose your individual identity when you're in the military. That's part of the idea, that you're not an individual, you're part of a bigger idea, a bigger group and a fighting force. So she didn't want to make anything about her stand out. She wanted to be viewed as just one of the Marines.
CAVANAUGH: Right, which is sort of more of an issue about the way women are accepted in the service than it is about breast feeding.
CAVANAUGH: Let me -- Patrick from San Diego says we're not afraid to show scenes of death. This is a scene of life. We should celebrate it. My last question to you, Wendy, is, you know, why in 2012 are we still talking about this issue?
PATRICK: Because babies still need to eat, I would say!

PATRICK: And I'm glad we're talking about it. Beth brought up the good point that look at what this photo did. It really brought this issue back into the forefront. It's here to say. It's a reminder and dare I say a up with call to some companies that perhaps haven't read the labor code lately. That when and if there are women who are of child bearing age and are breast feeding, we need to know the law and take it seriously. In 2012 we have more women returning to work than 30 years ago, far more women, especially when you tie in the nature of the economy on top of all of that. Women don't have the luxury to stay home and breast feed at their leisure N. 2012, we have the dual-income family, the challenges of the most recent economy, and we've also got the issue of gender discrimination is here to stay. So I think really it's become kind of a perfect storm, at least on the blog posts the last couple of days. Not only is this a relevant issue for 2012, but we can be having this conversation 100 years from now, and we'll probably be talking about many of the same issues.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you both. We do have this photograph on our website, and we'd love to hear your comments about it if you'd like to just leave a message on the website. That would be fabulous. Thank you both very much.
FORD ROTH: My pleasure.
PATRICK: Thank you.